Freelancers and Libel: Who Pays? Indemnity Clauses May Protect Publishers, but Alienate Writers

By Angelo, Jean | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, April 1988 | Go to article overview

Freelancers and Libel: Who Pays? Indemnity Clauses May Protect Publishers, but Alienate Writers


Angelo, Jean, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Freelancers and libel: Who pays?

Indemnity clauses may protect publishers, but alienate writers ] Freelancer material is the lifeblood of many magazines. But should editors risk alienating writers by asking them to sign "indemnity clauses," which make the writer responsible for legal fees if the piece comes under fire?

Glen Evans, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), says no, and advises freelancers not to sign such agreements. If they must sign, Evans suggests the freelancer at least soften the language.

Evans is not condoning irresponsibility, but says he is watching out for freelancers often ill-prepared to shoulder such financial burdens.

The clauses "take the onus off the magazine," he argues. "Some companies have a whole staff of corporate attorneys, yet they want to indemnify the magazine to be completely free against any warranty of libel. It would only take one lawsuit to wipe out a freelance writer."

"The truth is that freelancers can be sued whether they sign an indemnification clause or not," counters Rebecca Greer, articles editor for Woman's Day, who believes indemnification is necessary. "We have the right to go after our legal bills if freelancers are clearly at fault. It is appalling how many freelancers are ignorant of the law. We cut potentially libelous stuff out of articles all the time."

The biggest problem, she says, is copyright infringement. "Writers act like they interviewed someone, when actually their comments are taken out of a book. Or, they act like they interviewed someone yesterday, but the person has been dead for 10 years. This comes up constantly. We have no protection. We don't know if someone has plagiarized material."

Benjamin Parks, senior attorney for American Express who worked on freelancer contracts for Travel & Leisure concurs that--clause or no clause--writers and magazine editors alike have to deal with legal charges. …

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